Tesla: Now a National Security Threat to China

Tesla: Now a National Security Threat to China
Elon Musk poses for photos with buyers during the Tesla China-made Model 3 Delivery Ceremony in Shanghai. (Photo: STR / AFP, Getty Images)

Members of the People’s Liberation Army desperate to drive to work with all the style and panache afforded by Elon Musk’s overhyped cars are apparently out of luck. Citing “national security” concerns, the Chinese government has reportedly banned the use of Tesla vehicles by state and military employees on certain government properties.

Per reports from the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg, the People’s Republic of China is allegedly concerned that Tesla’s high-tech cars could be a source of data leaks or foreign spying. Of particular concern is the high number of internal sensors and cameras installed in Tesla vehicles — the likes of which could be used to funnel sensitive data “back to the U.S.,” government officials worry.

The order related to the ban was allegedly issued by the Chinese military and restricts government officials from using the vehicles at certain government and military properties, as well as from “driving into housing compounds for families of personnel working in sensitive industries and state agencies.” The ban follows on the heels of a “government security review” of Tesla by the government, WSJ reports, the likes of which apparently didn’t go too well.

The review apparently raised concerns about data collected by the vehicles and Tesla — including vehicle location data and the contact lists of mobile phones that are synched with the car’s internal systems.

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We recently covered how the modern day car is basically a treasure trove of personal data (the likes of which can be shared, sold or stolen), so China’s concerns are potentially not without merit.

On top of this, Tesla has had a handful of iffy security incidents over the years. In 2016, security researchers — in China, no less — demonstrated that they could remotely hack the company’s cars via its wifi; the hackers had the ability to pump the car’s brakes, pop the trunk and turn its windshield wipers on and off. A recent episode in which a hacker was able to gain access to hundreds of the company’s internal security cameras via a third-party provider has also provoked concerns.

The ban is also indicative of the way in which the tech industry has become a domain of the political conflict between the U.S. and China. Under President Trump, the U.S. moved to aggressively crack down on any Chinese technology company it deemed a “national security” threat — effectively blacklisting dozens of companies and attempting to censure their access to U.S. audiences while also cutting them off from financial investment. That China would respond in kind seems about par for the course.